The European healthcare market is currently worth over USD 2 trillion. This figure is only expected to rise further as populations age, not only in the EU but in countries around the world. The cost of healthcare varies greatly and has even given rise to a new industry – medical tourism. Even within the EU, healthcare standards and costs vary greatly. While some of the factors that make healthcare more expensive (like the number of skilled practitioners or wages) cannot be changed overnight, there are certain other inefficiencies which can be removed.

This is where the EU’s digital healthcare initiative or eHealth comes into the picture. eHealth aims to empower EU citizens and gives them better control over their medical data and records.

The primary thrust of the initiative can be summarized under three key points:

1. Providing citizens a secure way to access their medical and healthcare related data across borders 

The eHealth initiative will revolutionize the way medical data is recorded and shared. Citizens should be able to access their data seamlessly from all EU countries. Any delays in accessing medical records in an emergency would be unacceptable and also add to the overall cost of healthcare delivery. The tools provided by the eIDAS Regulation are also critical here. Medical records must be matched to individual citizens and must remain secure from tampering or misuse.

2. A shared European infrastructure for sharing health data  

Infographic - e-health

Source: European Commission

Research and Development accounts for a good chunk of the expenditure of many pharmaceutical firms and medical institutes. This R&D is critical to advancing the discipline and hence efforts should be made to maximize efficiency as much as possible. By sharing resources like data, expertise, storage, computing power and remotely using certain hardware, researchers can save a lot on redundant costs. Creating this framework for a pan European medical data sharing infrastructure for research is one of the main aims of the eHealth initiative. eIDAS again has a critical role to play here to protect this data from misuse by providing state of the art authentication and trust services.

3. Empowering citizens with digital tools for user feedback and creating an eco-system of person-centric care

In order to improve the quality of healthcare received by the citizens, it is necessary to create a feedback mechanism. An ideal feedback loop takes input from the end users on a continuous basis and then translates it into actionable points for the healthcare service providers. Empowering citizens with these tools is another main focus of the eHealth initiative. However, in order to protect such a system from abuse, it is necessary to ensure that the right people are providing feedback for the services they received. The authentication infrastructure enabled by eIDAS guarantees exactly this.

Conclusion

Good healthcare service is one of the most important requirements of modern life.  In an age when most services have already gone digital, it is time for the healthcare industry to do the same. Initiatives like eHealth, supported by eIDAS enabled tools, ensure that medical records, research tools and personalised medicine is available to citizens and healthcare providers across the EU.

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References and Further Reading

  • REGULATION (EU) 2016/679 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation) (2016), by the European Parliament and the European Council
  • Proposal for a REGULATION concerning the respect for private life and the protection of personal data in electronic communications and repealing Directive 2002/58/EC (Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications), (2017), by the European Parliament and the European Council

Image: A Message, courtesy of  Naama Ym , Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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